B-Movie Inspiration: Outerworld (1987)

I have been trying to shorten my Netflix list this year and watch more of the lesser known movies to get them off my list. Some of those movies have been pretty bad and I can not believe I had them on my list for so long. Others had nuggets of coolness that got my mind thinking. Of course, my thoughts always go straight to gaming and what RPGs I can use these ideas in, but that’s just who I am.

From IMDB.com

An alien spaceship is being sought by various factions on Earth. A female cyborg and a rogue trader team up to stop evil forces from taking over the ship.

I found it hard to believe that this was 1987. I think they went back in post-production and added some CGI in the space battles because those were pretty decent for a low budget film. According to what I have read online, this was a micro-budget film, almost literally filmed in the backyard of the director or producer’s house. Considering that fact, this is a pretty good movie. It has special effects reminiscent of Gerry Anderson but also some CGI mixed in (which as I said was added in when the technology was cheaper). The acting is HORRIBLE! However, the story line was what I liked a lot. I also liked the style of the movie.

The story line and setting had some similarities to Babylon 5 and other near future settings. An alien ship just appeared in orbit around the Earth, abandoned and derelict. From that, we obtained technology to explore the stars. No other signs of this alien race have been found…until now. It is a mad dash to find this new relic of the ancient aliens.

Stylistically, it had homage to Alien and Blade Runner – more the latter than the former. Thematically, it had elements of a Phillip K. Dick story as well. Of course, the terrible acting and the patchwork set design was a distraction. If you can ignore that, though, it was a great story.

My mind was immediately pulled in by the initial premise of the movie. Here is a good line that grabbed me.

Since the initial discovery of the alien spacecraft in 2054 by the Antigen Corporation, we have located no other remnants of the Teserand culture. Why they abandoned the vessel? What do they look like? Where do they come from? Where did they go? All we have is a tantalizing piece of machinery and damned few answers.

This of course ties into the classic ancient alien plot lines that are present in many sci-fi settings – Babylon 5, Stargate, Star Drive, and Fading Suns, just to name a few. Any setting with built-in ancients could take advantage of this kind of plot line.

Of course, this is not an original idea, but it is still very cool. Alien artifacts drop out of nowhere and hurl humanity to a new level of technology. Like the monoliths of 2001: A Space Odyssey, this device takes man to its next level of advancement. I have always been fascinated by derelicts and wrecks; old houses and ruins. They all have stories to tell and this ship is no different. This could be a great jumping off point of a campaign or a cool premise of game setting.

The plot line to the movie is also a cool idea for an adventure. “They found another one and everyone and their brother wants it!” It’s fairly easy to see the potential in that.

outerworld-dvd

Here are a few ideas that popped into my head for settings I have played:

  • Setting: Fading Suns – The ancient ship is actually a ship from the Second Republic. It was found by a developing alien race and helped advance its technology. Now the human-centric Pheonix Empire has to face an alien race armed with technology roughly equivalent to the Second Republic. What would the Church say? An entire race “corrupted” by Second Republic tech?
  • Setting: Fading Suns – Like the ship in Outerworld, the jumpgates affected human history in Fading Suns on many levels. It propelled them into interstellar space. Through the Second Republic, they found many of the jumpgates. But what if they found something else related to the jumpgates – an ancient key manufacturing ship or a jumpgate construction ship. There would be a mad dash to find things like that.
  • Setting: Stargate – A Stargate team gates to a world where the people have tapped an ancient alien technology not seen before. They learn of the orbiting ancient alien ship and find that this people treat it as a holy sanctuary and no non-natives are allowed aboard. Of course, something will drive the players to that ship and they find something dark about it.

Those are just a few ideas that popped into my head while watching this movie.

21 Plots

From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

21 Plots is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

Traveller is one of the oldest scif-fi RPGs in the business and I have played it off and on in different incarnations.  I own several of the original smaller books from the 70s, bought at a con auction, and also own the d20 version.  I primarily run science fiction games, and Traveller has always been a good source of inspiration for one shot as well as campaign adventures.  They set the standard for hard science sci-fi RPGs.  Anyone that tries to create a sci-fi RPG usually ends up modeling something after how Traveller did it.

John Watts and his group of friends are diehard Traveller fans and when Mongoose Publishing put out their edition of the classic version, Gypsy Knights Games arose from that group with a whole slew of material for the Traveller fan.  21 Plots is just one small part of the extensive product library.

From page # 2:
“Using the familiar format for Traveller players, this book presents 21 possible plots for the Referee to use with a gaming group.”

Can’t get much more simple than that.  That is exactly what this book is.  Each plot is one pget and has a simple summary of the intro or pull and then a table for possible gimmicks to the plot.  The tables have 6 total possibilities and range from fairly benign to downright sinister and dangerous. A GM should not feel compelled to roll, of course, if he likes a particular choice in the table.

What I like most about these plot lines is the potential for adventure in them.  Many of them are very inspiring.  They can be used as campaign adventures, one-shots or even background events for specific characters that need fleshing out.

One of the plots I liked was in the very beginning.  The party arrives on a planet and it just so happens that one of them bears an uncanny resemblance to a former dictator.  Running with that would last me a good 3 or 4 sessions, bringing in faction after faction that either hates or loves the dictator. Something I really liked is one of the choices in the tables that says that the dictator is in hiding.  This could be rather inconvenient for the dictator who is looking for a chance to rise to power or it could be a way to fake his death.  This speaks to me because I love political intrigue in a game.

Another good plot describes that characters are hired to deliver some supplies to a remote station only to find it deserted.  A very Alien-esque set up that I realize is not very original but I love a good mystery and a good opportunity to freak the players out with something alien.

From the page # 2:
“Like all our products, the main intention of this book is to provide an extra spark to the Referee’s imagination.”

Of course, these plots can be used anywhere, just about.  Although their passion is Traveller, these are written in a way that I can use them in any of the game settings I run.  Traveller is also not known for its over-reliance on supernatural elements so a creative GM can add more gimmicks relating to supernatural elements in their setting, if they so choose.

In conclusion, I am very tempted to take this book and run an entire campaign with just these as the seeds and then make up the rest as I go.  No story arch, just general real life circumstances that occur in a sci-fi setting.  Of course, story arches can easily grow out of these as time goes on.  These kinds of books are always so useful for a GM like me.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG Supplement “21 Plots” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/ and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 16

21 Plots
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Written by: John Watts, Wendy Watts, Larry Guffey, Tony Hicks
Cover Art by: Dave Ross
Number of Pages: 26
Game Components Included: One soft back book
Game Components Not Included: Traveller core rulebook, Mongoose Publishing
Retail Price: $10.99 softback, $4.99 PDF (US)
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Level 7 [Escape]

From: Privateer Press
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Level 7 [Escape] is a new Board Game from Privateer Press.

You awaken on the cement floor, naked and covered in goo, surrounded by huge tanks with other humans. You see that you have fallen out of a similar tank, conduits and wires dangling. You are in some kind of experimental facility, dark and strange, and all you know to do is ESCAPE!

Thus is the basic premise of Level 7.  It has the feel of other games similar to it with some interesting twists.  It is a heavy thematic game with interesting mechanics.  One to four players can play a character who must escape from the Subterra Bravo facility while dodging armed guards and alien clones.

From the website:
“You are a captive of Subterra Bravo, imprisoned in the facility’s deepest laboratory, the hall of nightmares known as LEVEL 7.”

Because of my role playing game roots and my propensity to envision a story while I play a game, no matter what type of game, I lean towards thematic games over puzzle solving games.  Puzzle solving and min-maxing type games just don’t give me the thrill that a good thematic game gives me.

From the perspective of theme, in the myriad of zombie and Lovecraftian games, this game was a breath of fresh air.  This is probably one of the reasons it attracted me the most.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good zombie or Cthulhu themed game every once in a while.  However, something different always seems to catch my eye.

The game is basically tile based.  Random tiles are placed around the starting tile defining surrounding rooms.  Players play characters trapped in this facility and go from room to room encountering things, finding things and/or performing tasks.  Characters can encounter clone gray aliens, alien hybrids, and facility guards.  The dynamic in these encounters is at the center of what makes this game different.

Each game is driven by a scenario.  The scenario booklet defines seven levels of the game.  In each scenario there is everything you need to setup and play that particular level.  One of the challenges I had initially was understanding the scenario setup.  I recommend that you read the entire entry.  The scenario outlines tile stacks, the number of enemies in the scenario, the scenario goals, and special scenario rules.  Once you go through the instructions of the scenario setup, the game board is ready to play.  Every scenario is different.  Each has different goals to get to the next level and each progressively presents more and more bad guys and challenges.

There are four characters to play.  The characters’ stats are all identical to start with.  The basic stats are what you would expect – intelligence, strength, speed and toughness.  They represent the number of dice you need to roll.  They are modified by two random skill cards, differentiating each character from each other.  You can have a Sneaky Amateur Boxer or a Cautious Bookworm.  The skills from the skill cards add to existing stats or give certain abilities.  Any bonuses from these are translated as extra dice.

Each character has two other important stats – threat and fear.  These go up and down during the game.  These two stats are what make encounters so different.  Enemies also have threat and fear, as defined in the scenario.  Enemy threat and fear may shift based on conditions defined in the scenario.  The alien clone enemies experience a sense of euphoria when they feed off a frightened human.  They generally are attracted to the target with the highest fear – which may be the guard or it may be a player.  On the flip side of this is threat, which attracts the guards.  Again this may be an enemy in the room or a player.

There is also vitality, which is basically hit points but is more than just life in the game.  Vitality is a measure of the maximum hand of Adrenaline Cards the player can have.  Adrenaline Cards are quite literally the life of a character.  They have three functions – special one-time abilities, one-time boosts or immediate fear adjustments upon discard.  Each player has a number of cards to start with and various things can burn cards throughout the game.  If you run out of cards, you get knocked out and taken to the infirmary where you have to crawl your way out.  Characters can also be killed in the rare event their vitality score reduces to the “skull” icon or if they are knocked out during a special condition called “lockdown.”

From the back cover website:
“There is no Subterra Bravo. Officially, the top-secret military facility doesn’t exist. There is no record of it: no blueprints, no photographs, no credible accounts. Rumors persist, but no one has ever found it. And those who have looked have disappeared.”

In game play, encounters occur on some tiles.  There are Event Cards that tell what happens there.  Sometimes it is a test called a Challenge, and the player rolls a number of dice to check for success or failure.  Certain things happen depending on success or failure, and many times there are consequences that affect the other players.

The game is described as semi-cooperative.  I love that term.  It’s cooperative until you have to make a hard choice – help a buddy out or leave him behind because he has the higher fear or threat.  As you traverse levels, you might work together on the goals but when push comes to shove, you may end up leaving someone behind.  Event cards also tell you when to spawn enemies and when you “activate” them.  Each time you activate enemies, all enemies of that type do something – move, attack or recover.  The catch is to remember to draw an event card whether the tile has an event icon or not.  You always see if enemies activate regardless of whether there is an event or not.

The game-flow is fairly smooth and easy to catch on.  Once you get the details down and the special rules when they come up (like Lockdown, Guard Posts and Clone Nests), you have this game down fairly easy.  My major issue with the game was that I never really felt the tension that it supposed to have.  I never really felt like I was in a big hurry to get out or felt the fear that I might not make it out.

The game materials itself are a little disappointing as well.  For a game company that does such an amazing job with minis in Warmachine and Hordes, I thought I would see some of that craftsmanship in this game.  Unfortunately, everything is card board stand-ups.  For a game at that price, I would have hoped that I was paying for a little more plastic and a little less cardboard.

Additionally, for a game with so much theme, the events seem lacking.  In some events, there are challenges but they never really give you an in-game reason for why they must be performed.  I know that might not seem like a big deal to a regular board game player, but from a theme stand-point I think a little more flavor text in the events would go a long way toward increasing the tension.

The game mechanics are much like other games I have played and did not impress me much.  They were simple enough but did not get in the way of the game, but unfortunately they did not enhance the game much either.  My major issue with this though is the specialized dice.  I am not a big fan of specialized dice.  If you lose them, you are screwed.  You cannot substitute your own dice.

In conclusion, Level 7 is a pretty good game that could have been better.  It has a great theme but seems to fall short in exploiting that theme.  It seems a little over priced for what you get and from a company that does so well with miniatures, I would have thought that some cool minis would have been included in this one.  When I played the game, I really felt like the game was missing something. Maybe expansions will enhance the game better but the base game did not blow me away.

For more details on Privateer Press and their new Board Game “Level 7 [Escape]” check them out at their website http://www.privateerpress.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 11

Product Summary

Level 7 [Escape] From: Privateer Press
Type of Game: Board Game
Game Design by: William Schooonover, Matthew D. Wilson
Cover Art by: Nestor Ossandon
Additional Art by: Ed Bourelle, Lain Garrett, Chris Walton
Number of Pages: Rulebook: 15.  Scenario guide: 15
Game Components Included: 47 Map Tiles, 138 Cards, 4 Character Sheets, 133 Tokens and Markers, 28 Stands, 8 Special Dice, Rulebook, Scenario Guide
Retail Price: $ 54.99 (US)
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Player Ages: 14+
Play Time: 30 min+
Item Number: 62001
ISBN: 75582-01172
Website: www.privateerpress.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

B-Movie Inspiration: 70s Italian Cheese (1977-1978)

Cosmos: War of the Planets (1977)

waroftheplanetssm

Alfonso Brescia, Italian director and movie maker, churned out 4 movies between 1977 and 1978.  I have seen two of them and these films could easily be connected directly as sequels.  Both have similar sets, costuming, and themes, and some actors are in both films.  They are also equally as bad.  So bad that I felt they deserved to be lumped together in one article.

All four films in the series are Italian low budget films that were put out to capitalize on the Star Wars craze.  They have all the great elements of a sci-fi B movie Star Wars rip-off – space ships, rogue pilots, robots, aliens and disco music.  These two films were shot basically back to back, obviously.

Cosmos: War of the Planets is a disjointed and odd film about a far future that becomes overly reliant on computers and robots to make their own decisions.  The protagonist is a computer-hating rogue that gets into alot of trouble over his hatred of the “main computer” called The Wiz.  In the first 45 minutes or so there are various scenes that seem to have nothing to do with the story.  The editing is terrible because the sheer randomness of some scenes almost loses the whole story altogether.  There is a scene where a couple wishes to get “intimate” and apparently they even use computer gizmos to simulate that. This is just one translucent attempt to illustrate the central theme of the movie.

Throughout the movie, there is reference to something called the Robot War.  It’s never clear what that is but I interpret it as something like a robot uprising.  When I first saw the title of the other movie in this review, I thought perhaps it was a prequel explaining that plot element.  However, as I watched the War of the Robots, I realized just how wrong I was.

This rogue captain, Mike Hamilton, is later sent off on his ship the MK-31, on a mission to investigate an “unstable planet” (whatever that means) that is sending disrupting signals to Earth.  There they encounter flying saucers that attempt to shoot them down, forcing MK-31 to land on the planet.  On the surface of the desolate planet, they find a portal that zaps a number of the crew underground where they stumble across the subjugated humanoid inhabitance and their robotic boss – a giant controller robot that looks like something ripped from the old Lost in Space show.

The boss, a cheesy precursor to Terminator’s Skynet, has enslaved the entire planet and is sort of worshiped like a god.  However, it has a problem.  It needs repairing and the enslaved sheep of his world no longer have the knowledge or ability to fix it.  He tries to force the crew to fix him.  Perhaps the most cheesy part of the movie is the fix that was needed – just a simple board switch-out that could have been done by a child.  It should have been more complex and challenging, perhaps making the heroes sacrifice a part of their ship or something, but no, they cheesed it up.

They eventually destroy the controller robot computer thing and all escape only to discover the consciousness of the controller transferred to one of the crew.  He goes on a killing spree until the heroes take him down.  The overall story and theme of the movie is pretty good but unfortunately it is veiled by poor editing and cheesy music.  The acting is also very bad and the english dubbing made it even worse.  The sets and special effects are old Dr. Who quality, the aliens being simply green painted humans with pointy-ears.

From an RPG game master point of view, this movie has a few gems in it, some of which I have used before.

  • Over-reliant and complacent Society – The primary theme I got out of it is the common saying “Forget history and you are doomed to repeat it.”  Here we have Earth already over-reliant on technology to the point that they cannot make a decision on their own.  This is the primary motivation for the main character, as he “follows his gut” and brutishly makes decisions on his own, sometimes ignoring the decisions made by the machines.  And what does he discover?  An alien race that has been there and done that…and regrets it.  The forewarning-of-doom story line can be worked into long term campaigns easily.  You have whole societies of “sheeple” reliant on one particular thing or another.  It does not have to be technology; it can be magic or a particular type of magic. Ignorant of what could happen, these people continue to rely on this particular plot device to the point that it’s dangerous.  Enter in an ancient race or being that has done it before and learned the consequences.  Now it is up to the players to show their society that there are other ways.
  • Planet-wide controlling computer – This I have used before and actually continue to use because I keep finding plot lines that I can use it in.  Ancient alien races that build these giant computers that control their entire society.  What happens after the aliens are gone? Does the computer go crazy?  Does it die?  Does it go dormant until something else wakes it up? What does it do when it discovers it has nothing left to control?    All these questions and more can be explored in a sci-fi setting.  In a fantasy setting, it is a little more difficult but not impossible.  It does not have to be a planet , it could be a castle or a dungeon.  The computer could instead be some kind of magically generated personality trapped inside the structure for the purposes of controlling it. An idea I had was a once great kingdom destroyed by war, that was once ruled by a powerful sorcerer.  The computer can be this sorcerer or some malevolent Sauron-like being trapped in some magic item, ruling over some wasted lands, using golems to do its bidding.
  • The Killer Robot – Expanding off the Computer element, it could have lost control of one robot or golem and the task the party must complete is defeating that robot/golem.
  • The post-apocalyptic aliens – I like the idea of a post-apocalypse that is not our own.  These aliens lived underground in compounds accessible only be teleport gates.  Cool idea.  Another aspect of these people are that they are telepathic.  That’s either a racial thing or something they develop due to mutations from the war.  Not very original but still an aspect that gives them a more alien feel.  They historically complacent and lazy because they were once dependent on robots and computers, which is something you can tie into other plot elements.

War of the Robots (1978)

waroftherobotsWar of the Robots takes us to a similar future.  On a planet, a genetic engineer (Professor Carr) and his beautiful assistant Lois are experimenting with “the forces of nature” by artificially creating life.  This process apparently involves the use of a big nuclear reactor that the scientists have near their lab.  While arguing over the morality of creating artificial life, the scientists are kidnapped by silvery aliens with bad hair-cuts (which we later find out are robots) and taken off planet in a ship that looks very similar to the flying saucers in Cosmos: War of the Planets.  Unfortunately, the good doctor left his reactor running and because he has heavily modified it, no one knows how to shut it down.  It’s going critical and in 8 days and it will take out the entire city! Our hero, coincidentally the assistant’s secret lover John Boyd, is dispatched to rescue the two by the space authority of Space Base Sirius.

Through a few recycled shots and props from Cosmos: War of the Planets,  the crew of the ship Trissi (at least it’s not another bunch of letters and numbers) get on the trail of the alien kidnappers.  They catch up only to be attacked by two other saucers.  They take out the attackers but sustain enough damage that they have to land and repair.  They find a nearby world called Azar.  On planet, they encounter the Azarites who think Boyd and his away party are people of Anthor, an apparent enemy of the Azarites.  In short, they discover that the Anthorians have enslaved the Azarites and used them as slave labor and unwilling organ donors.  Anthorians seek immortality through harvesting Azarite organs and have kidnapped the good doctor and his scientist assistant to find a better way.  After thinking about it, I really did not think that was all that bad.  Except for the fact that he needs to shutdown his reactor, he’s actually trying to give the bad guys a good alternative and free the Azarites.  But that’s not how the writer saw it and the plot goes downhill from here.

The climax involved a lot of strange back-stabbing and betrayal.  Character motivation is very blurred for many of the characters as you begin to lose who is the bad guy and who is the good guy in a confusing array of events that lead to the final battle.  Professor Carr turns traitor and joins the Anthorians to help them, while Lois was somehow adopted as the Anthorian queen (I guess they thought she was hot).  Lois betrays Professor Carr but then betrays Boyd and everyone else for no apparently reason.  It get’s quite confusing towards the end.  Then, “Oh look…,” the giant controller robot from Cosmos: War of the Planets is now being used as Dr. Carr’s research computer.  Unlike Cosmos: War of the Planets, the editing in this was a little better, the story-telling a little clearer.  The failure was in the characters and their motivations.

Drawing ideas from this for an RPG campaign is not all that hard.  The theme is far less epic but still kind of interesting.

  • Mad scientist playing god: Common theme in many comic books, the mad scientist or scholar toying with things he doesn’t quite understand is easily used in any setting or genre.  Although it was probably a failing of the writers in character development, we see the scientist go from only slightly maniacal and morally ambiguous to eventually full blown mad when he realizes the Anthorians can supply him with not only means to his goals but a proper motivation.  This mad scientist was just waiting for a reason to be mad.
  • The search for immortality:  The Anthorians were searching for a way to live forever.  Harvesting organs from another alien race assumes they are compatible, so apparently the Azarites are an off-shoot race of the Anthorians.  There is a long and sorted background just waiting to be written right there alone.  The Anthorians apparently thought themselves as gods and sought to reach that level through whatever means necessary.

This kind of story has been explored in various ways in the Star Trek franchise.  I distinctly remember race of aliens that harvest body parts from other aliens to live.  I would imagine it took some serious genetic engineering to make all those parts compatible.  Also I think the second-to-last ST:TNG movie, Insurrection, had similar plot elements in it –both immortality and organ harvesting.  The search for immortality has been around since before Ponce de Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth.  From this writer’s point of view, though, the journey to immortality is not as interesting as where they find it.

Although equally bad, both War of the Planets and War of the Robots are different movies with different themes.  Both have pretty good stories if you look past the terrible acting, special effects and editing.  Like most B-movies, there is inspiration somewhere in there.

B-Movie Inspirations: It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
Year: 1958
Rated: NR

When I first started this idea of watching B-movies as inspirations for GMing, I knew there were bad movies that I would get nothing out of or at least struggle with. Well, this movie is one of them, I suppose, but not because it is bad. It! is a story that has since been told in many ways, some better and others not so much. It has much of the 1950s sci-fi trappings of low budget filming while at the same time had some interesting aspects to it as well.

ittheterrorfrombeyondspace

To begin with, I will give you the IMDB summary:

In 1973, the first manned expedition to Mars is marooned; by the time a rescue mission arrives, there is only one survivor: the leader, Col. Edward Carruthers, who appears to have murdered the others! According to Carruthers, an unknown life form killed his comrades during a sandstorm. But the skeptical rescuers little suspect that “it” has stowed away for the voyage back to Earth… Written by Rod Crawford

For all intents and purposes, this is an alien stowaway movie that has since been done better with movies like Alien. The alien is not well done but probably scary for its time. It’s a big scaly body suit with a cheesy mask that has very little articulation. The creature’s roar is something you would hear off of Lost in Space or something like that. In fact, the entire movie felt like a bad episode of Lost in Space.

The movie’s pacing is about what you would expect for its time – slow. Where movies like Aliens focus on the tension and suspense of having an alien on board, this one approached it a little too casually. “Oh, we have an alien on board. Let’s stop and have a smoke while we wait for it to go away….” That was sort of the sense I got from the movie. You get the feeling back then that it took a lot less to put an audience in suspense.

The gratuitous smoking was a great sign of the times. Never mind that fact that you are around highly explosive oxygen tanks. Also, despite the fact that this is the future – 1973 – they still had Korean War era weapons on board. Even in the real 1973 we had new and more menacing looking weapons than that. And of course, they are slug throwers. I guess they have strong hulls. It wasn’t so bad that they had old .45 pistols and a bolt action rifle, but they also had GRENADES and a BAZOOKA on board! Holy cow! That’s some serious firepower!

The creature seemed to have no explanation other than perhaps it was a devolved version of a Martian from their dead civilization. It seemed impervious to any of their weapons, including grenades and the slug throwers. It was also immune to radiation and some kind of poison gas they threw at it. However, for some reason, it was afraid of a blow torch which a crew member used to fend it off for a long period of time. I found that quite silly.

What I liked was the ship set. It was the standard vertical design, with stair cases linking each level. The only problem with that was they were not always consistent with the order of levels as the characters ascended and/or descended. However, it was a rather well-done set, with lots of bells and whistles of a 50s style rocket ship. They seemed to be selective about when explosive decompression would occur when the airlocks were open, however.

So what value can a RPG game master get out of this movie? Not a whole lot that has not been done before. A few plot points can probably be used if you change a few things.

  • Man Accused: The basic initial premise of the movie is that a second mission to Mars is sent to retrieve the survivor of the first so that he can face trial for the murder of the crew. Of course, he didn’t do it but no one believes his story that some strange alien did it. This could be the basic premise to set up whatever the GM wants, from sci-fi settings to fantasy. The key things to remember are that (1) it’s in an age of exploration and unknown, and (2) the creature needs to be unbelievable for whatever location they are exploring. The sense of mystery and exploration sets the mood and sets up the environment perfect for this kind of plot. Idea: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde – Imagine if the man accused was telling the truth from his perspective and the alien he claims is actually “in him” somehow. Perhaps a parasite, a demonic possession or an alternate personality, but it’s good to keep the mystery for as long as possible.
  • Alien Stowaway: This kind of adventure, regardless of setting, has been done over and over again. I think I have done it at least 20 different times in different settings. But there are key things you need in order to maximize this kind of adventure’s experience for the players. (1) Fully flesh out the alien. When I say alien, it could be something demonic or foreign, in any setting. As long as it is something the players are not familiar with and fully fleshed out, it will keep the players interest. (2) The location needs to be fully mapped out. In this location, have secret passages, crawl spaces, and/or tight areas for the creature to hide. If you are using miniatures, you need to have a scale map as well. Flesh out the location also. Empty rooms are boring. Lay out supplies, special items, and equipment for the players to find and perhaps use against the new visitor. (3) Give the visitor a goal and/or a reason for being there. Anything the players have to figure out gives more challenge to them.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space wasn’t really original, at least for today, but it was a good example of a very good RPG plot, the alien stowaway. Use with caution.

Fortress America Board Game (2012)

From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Fortress America is a Board Game from Fantasy Flight Games.

fortamericaFew games bring about more emotional reaction than Fortress America, in my experience.  It has come to epitomize the American style of board game.  You either love it or you hate it.  There are very few who are in-between those extremes about this game.  This game has a lot of history for me and for others in the gaming community.  And that history has brought out these reactions.  I own and have played the original for years and have thoroughly enjoyed it, so my history with it is already fairly positive.

Originally part of Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster series that included Axis & Allies, Samurai Swords, Conquest of the Empire and others, it fell into obscurity for years after, while the other games in its line saw new life being republished by other publishers.  A game of it’s time, it is a throw back to the old Cold War paranoia that those my age knew and loved.  Thanks to Fantasy Flight Games and Wizards of the Coast, no longer does Fortress America lie in the shadows of our memory as a game we once played.  It has been resurrected!

From the inside cover of the rulebook:
“One Nation, Under Siege”

For those that did not live in the “dark times” us old folks called the Cold War, Fortress America was born of an idea that America may one day be invaded by its enemies.  Many likened it to the classic 80s movie, Red Dawn and in many ways it is very similar in theme.  But unlike the recent remake of Red Dawn, this remake of a game is as good if not better than the original.

The concept behind the game is simple.  If back-story to your game is important, here it is in a nutshell. America is being invaded by three fronts – east coast by the European Socialists,  the south by the Central American Federation and the west coast by the Asian alliance. (For some reason, Canada stays out of this one)  Why invade America, you ask?  Well, apparently the world is a little angry that the US built the equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s SDI plan with lasers in orbit to shoot down missiles and they thought it best to just invade us.  For those that remember the original back-story, there are some subtle differences to modernize the storyline, but in general that’s the basic sense.  Quite a few people are up in arms over the tone of the rewritten background, however.  They are upset mostly because it sort of makes the US seem like the bad guy more than the old one. But we are here to play a board game and not a role playing game.  Leave the drama at your RPG table.

There are several units in the game and Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has done very well with the plastic units.  I have always loved the way FFG does their plastic pieces for their games.  In this game, there are Infantry, Tanks, Mobile Units, Helicopters and Bombers.  The US also has Partisans as well as Laser Units.  On the surface, because of the extra units, it looks like the US has all the advantages but in truth there is balance if the invaders work together and play their cards right, figuratively.

NOTE:  Some Assembly Required.  The Laser units and the helicopters require some snapping together in the new version of the game.

Invaders takes their turns first so the US gets to take the beatings first.  Each round, the US gets two things – a Laser unit and at least one Partisan card (more if he takes back cities).  These are the US’s version of re-enforcements while the Invaders get a fixed number of units each round until they run out.  The object of the game is for the Invaders to take 18 of the 30 cities and the US to keep that from happening.  The invaders have a limited time to get reinforcements so they have to accomplish thst in those turns or the US can go on the offensive.

Mechanically, the advantage goes to the defender, which in most cases is the US.  Unless things are going really really well for the US, nine times out of ten the US is the defender.  The defending units fire first and the attacking kills do not get a chance to fire back.  That is a huge factor in the game.  Couple that with the unit limit in each territory and the attacking player has to think about his attacks before committing.

The Lasers are the most dreaded thing if you are an invader.  There is no defending against them, and in certain circumstances they nearly can’t miss.  If you are the US, these little helpers can not come soon enough and you have to keep your cities in order to place them.

From the inside cover of the rulebook:
“Every army dreads fighting a war on two fronts – the United States is about to face three.  Will Fortress America survive?”

Fantasy Flight Games can’t remake a game without adding a little something to it, and I have enjoyed their additions every time they have.  First, they gave a nod to the fans of the game who made house rules and actually gave a function to the Mobile Units other than canon fodder.  They can move units as well.

They also added a few aesthetics that help in play, including the US Turn Track and the Capture City Track.  There are some minor adjustments they made on the map as well.   As I said before, the minis are much nicer and much more detailed.

One interesting change that I like, even though there is a downside to it, is the custom dice.  The shape of the dice is the same.  There are  6-, 8-, and 10 sided dice. However, in the case of the 6- and 8-sided dice, instead of numbers, they have symbols on the dice representing hits, misses and retreat/disengage.  They left the 10 side alone because laser hits can be varied depending on a card in the Partisan deck.  I am not a  big fan of that because when you lose them, you have to go to the manufacturer and get new ones but with a little thought, standard dice can be used in a pinch.

Fantasy Flight also added new optional variant rules to make things more interesting.  The most notable one is the Invader card option.   With these, the Invader player can forgo a number of re-enforcements in exchange for a card, which gives him certain other advantages.  However, these cards might have requirements on them.  For example the Marching from the South card requires one mineral territory, one agricultural territory and 2 oil territories. Each Invader has 8 cards available to them.  Most notable of these cards are the Footholds.  The cards allow the Invaders to move up their invasion zones deeper into enemy territory by establishing certain cities as footholds.  From America’s point of view that is bad enough but what is worse is that one particular foothold is a permanent one – once San Antonio is placed, there is no taking it back.

What they changed is as good as what they did not change.  The basic mechanic and flow of the game is unchanged.  The heart of the game is unchanged.  It is still the fun war game I remember from the late 80s.

In conclusion, the Fantasy Flight Games version of Fortress America is a brilliant update of a classic board game.  As a game, it is a plain and simple war game where the dice are as much a factor in deciding your fate as your strategy.  There is always the strange and unique case where a single Infantry unit holds a city from an insurmountable force.  It is rare but I have had it happen and that one-turn delay in the Invaders’ plans can really help the US player survive. It is semi-cooperative for the Invaders and the American player stands alone.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their board game “Fortress America” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Product Summary

Fortress America
From: Fantasy Flight Games (licensed through Wizards of the Coast)
Type of Game: Board Game
Game Design by: Michael Gray, Kevin Wilson
Cover Art by: Scott Schomburg
Additional Art by: Ben Zweifel, Jason Beaudoin (miniature design)
Number of Pages: 24 page rulebook
Game Components Included: game board, reference sheets, various other sheets, various counters, dice and plastic figures
Retail Price: $ 79.95 (US)
Number of Players: 4
Player Ages: 14+
Play Time: 1 to 2 houras
Item Number: VA83
IBSN: 978-1-61661-398-3
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

B-movie Inspirations: Forbidden World (1982)

Year: 1982
Rated: R

forbiddenworld1982

In his over 50 years of filmmaking, Roger Corman has to be one of the best sources where an RPG game master might look for inspiration.  Any good GM that is also a B-movie fan should know who he is and has probably seen at least one of his movies.  Forbidden World is not one of his best but it has some entertainment value as well as inspiration in it.

Bottom line, Forbidden World is a cheap rip-off of Alien.  Even the creature looked like a bloated copy of a xenomorph.  According to IMDB.com, Roger Corman originally wanted a sci-fi version of Lawrence of Arabia but settled for the Alien copy.  Trust me, however, the clumsy puppet they used for it was so cheesy that it was embarrassing to watch.  I also had a facepalm moment when I recognized the first few scenes that made up the space battle between the main character and some pirates as recycled scenes from another Corman movie, Battle Beyond the Stars.  In addition, I recognized some sets that were recycled from Galaxy of Terror.

The basic premise of the movie is that far in the future where man has colonized many worlds a government enforcer/troubleshooter of some kind (Mike Colby played by Jesse Vint) is sent to investigate an incident at a experimental genetics station on some remote and desolate world.  Why a remote and desolate world, I am not sure but the scientists are working on some means to solve the galaxy-wide food problem.  Apparently, despite having the technology to colonize other worlds, we still do not have enough fertile worlds to feed all of us.

Of course, the foolish scientists, ever so obsessive about learning more about the universe, find themselves in trouble when they create a generic aberration they can not control.  Part synthetic DNA, part human, this creature evolves rapidly and starts killing off station members one by one, turning some into food.  I should note, along with all this gore, there are also a few sexually explicit scenes (R rated) and several gratuitous topless female scenes, so do not watch this with your kids.

The subtle subtext of the story was that the creature was keeping humans around to create a food supply for itself, tying it into the original premise of the station in a sort of ironic fashion.  I thought that was kind of creative.

From an RPG game master point of view, this kind of story has been done before over and over again.  It could be a strange creature summoned from another plane, or a magical golem created by a mad wizard.  There are several seeds that you can draw from this.

  • Something’s wrong at the station: Always a good plotline.  Something has gone wrong at a remote location like on a space station, island, abandoned oil rig or derelict ship.  Anything can happen there; the key thing is to have it mapped out.  Like a first person shooter, plant supplies for the players to get.  Perhaps place a key element clear across the location where they have to get past a peril to get to it. Instilling a sense of claustrophobia and limited resources always challenges a party.  Have them keep track of their ammo, their supplies and the sense of fear will definitely set in.
  • Alien intruder: Another plot line that requires a good and fully fleshed-out location, the alien intruder could be anything.  The key to this is it has to be something that the players have not seen before or can not predict (something a little outside the typical Monster Manual creature). Use these kinds of plot lines to show your creativity in creature creation but also keep it balanced. The last thing you want the players to feel is railroaded into a unbeatable situation.  Give them all the resources they need to defeat whatever they are facing.
  • Mixing things you shouldn’t: Central to the theme of this movie is scientists mixing DNA from multiple sources.  Although primarily a sci-fi idea, it can be applied to other genres.  It does not have to be DNA.  It could be types of magic or types of planer energies.  It could be anything.  The key to this is that it’s something forbidden or cutting edge; something no one has tried before.  The experiments being performed can be forgotten or lost lore, something that someone has tried before and failed with dire consequences.  This can be a true test of the imagination because even if it is something the players have seen before, the result can be totally original.

As I said, Roger Corman is one of the best resources for adventure ideas from movies.  He has many decades of movies, transcending many eras of movie making.  Forbidden World is not an original film but it has some good stuff in it if you can get past the cheese.  Enjoy these movies for what they are worth.  Inspirations!

 

Conspiracy Rules (Dark Conspiracy III)

From: 3Hombres Games/Kinstaff Media LLC
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

conspiracy1

Conspiracy Rules (Dark Conspiracy III) is a new Role Playing Game Core Rules from 3Hombres Games/Kinstaff Media LLC.

Old school rises up again in a new release by 3Hombres Games.  Dark Conspiracy is an old game once published in 1991 by the now defunct Game Designers’ Workshop, and has floated around in different hands since GDW’s demise in 1996.  A second edition was published which updated the rules and a few adventures were published by it slowly died after that.  A couple of fans worked hard to revive it and after some difficulties, the 3rd edition was put out in PDF form.  The results of their labor is now available on DriveThruRPG.

From page # 29:
“Mo Dugan winced as he stepped on something wet and spongy.”

The setting of Dark Conspiracy has a special place in my heart although I struggled with the system.  When it was updated to a 20-sided die system, it ran a little smoother.  However, GDW collapsed before I could get started with a regular group and everyone was ready to move on to something else.  I have followed it ever since but with the advent of d20 and other house systems, I felt that they gaming community (at least the one around me) has evolved past that type of game.

For those new to it, Dark Conspiracy is a near-future horror game born out of the age of X-files, Roswell and the like.  Imagine all the folklore, myths and tabloid headlines were true to some degree or another, but each are twisted in some strange way.  Now couple that with the fact that a global economic collapse has enveloped the planet, leading to wars, population decline and general chaos.  Populations have flocked to the cities creating huge megaplexes.  For example, the east coast US from Boston to Washington DC is a solid city called New Boshwash.  Meanwhile, the countryside has become either abandoned or overrun with outlaws a la Mad Max.  All this despair and desperation overshadows the dark creatures crawling in the shadows and the strange aliens watch you at night.

Player characters are presumed to know something of the “Darkness” – the coming of evil creatures from beyond the veil of reality.  They are called Minion Hunters and they have dedicated their lives to stopping the minions of the darkness in whatever form they come, while dealing with the dark future of mega-corporate dominance, environmental collapse, and economic depravity.

At the time, GDW was fluctuating between several systems.  Twilight: 2000, Traveller, and Space:1889 were just a few of the games they were supporting.  Very forward thinking, they were one of the first to attempt a house system, bringing all their titles under one system. But unfortunately, that house sytem continued to fluctuate even as they released new versions.

I fell in love with the setting right away and continue to run it when I get a chance.  This near version has revitalized my passion for the setting but unfortunately, the system is a little too old school for today’s gamers, I feel.

First off, it’s important to know that Conspiracy Rules is just that – the rules for Dark Conspiracy III (DCIII).  Well, that’s not entirely true, because there is equipment as well as a long list of baddies for your to peruse.  The only thing really missing is the setting information.  They state in the book that the setting information will be released in a separate PDF called Conspiracy Lives! I hope in that, they will update it to more modern feel because 2013 is about what I imagined the near-future was in the 1990s.  A little updating would probably help the setting.

From the page # 75:
“When I was a kid, growing up, I heard the stories about albino alligators living in the sewers, clear-skinned cannibals who would pull you out of phone booths, and gargoyles that turn into living creatures after midnight.”

I hate to overuse a term, but it really applies to this game system – it is old school.  DCIII updates the rules to the most recent version of the GDW, used in the award winning Traveller: The New Era and Twilight: 2000 v2.2.  It is not a rules light system where the GM has a lot room to make fiats.  It has a pretty stringent combat system, a very detailed character generation system and extensive skill system.  Core to the system is the d20 die and rolling under a total of attribute and skill value.  The basic system fairly easy but the devil is in the details.  The combat system is pretty detailed and realistic.  It is one of those systems that sacrifices simplicity for realism.  However, I don’t feel that it goes overboard with the realism.  It makes a pretty good attempt at a balanced approach.  I think they describe it best:

The original rules were firmly based in the science of physics (as much as possible) and the desire to realistically account for the range of outcomes of modern weapons made the rules more complex than the average player feels necessary. The rules for fire combat, as complex as they are, are extremely consistent across the range of results they intend to model.

For example, it is one of the last systems to use hit locations in combat.  I know other games have it as an option but in this game requires it because each hit location has its own hit points.  Also, Weapons have their own recoil value and this is calculated into combat.  There is a certain level of detail that other games do not have or bother with.

Character creation for this game is legendary.  I am not entirely sure which games started it, but DCIII uses the career path system.  This system was used in some of the variants of Traveller and well as later versions of Twilight: 2000.  In one of those version (not in DCIII), there was a chance that a character could die in character generation. Not really sure what the logic was in that one but in general, it is a fairly in-depth system to create your character.  After you allocate your initial points for your attributes, you go through 4-year terms in specific careers and these careers give you skill, attribute and other bonuses.  In DCIII, there is a vast list of civilian and military careers.  From Clergy to Welfare Case, Army basic training to Navy Seal, you can fully flesh out a character in this system.

Since there is supernatural creatures involved, it would make sense that character had something supernatural on their side.  For this game, it is Empathy, often interchanged with the term Psionics. In the old books, Empathy was treated just as another skill.  In this version, combining some elements from the old Protodimensional Sourcebook as well as , Empathy/Psionics is given a little more attention.  The chapter also has an in-depth information on a concept central to the dark invasion – protodimensions.  These are different dimensional planes of varying effects and also where some of the dark creatures come from. With these powers and access to the protodimensions, characters can dimensional walk, astral travel and other multiple supernatural feats to help them fight the dark invasion.

Despite my love for the setting and respect for the rules, this new version does have it flaws.  There are a few editing issues through out the book.  For example, Character advancement is no where to be found. Also the game references the supernatural attribute as PSI but the character sheet still has the old version’s EMP attribute.  However, when it was released, the authors even admitted to the editing issues and are releasing errata as they find them on their web site.

This book is also more than just a regurgitation of previous information, reorganized and shuffled. In the writer’s attempts to consolidate all the years of material plus work in the updates from the final version of the GDW d20 house system, he reworked some things, reworded a few others and expanded on others.  For example, protodimensions were only hinted at in the first core rule book and expanded upon in the Protodimensional Sourcebook to some degree.  These were all fragmental dimensions where weird things happened.  But they never expanded upon what Earth’s dimension was or were there others.  In Conspiracy Rules, they at least categorize our dimension as a prime dimension and expand on more about other types of dimensions.  This opens the door to much more than I think even the original writers thought possible for the game.

In conclusion, despite the some amateur editing, the book itself is definitely a worthy new edition to a classic. I am not entirely sure it is something today’s gamer is going to thoroughly appreciate because of the level of detail and complexity, but it does keep the theme of original with great updates to the system. But like I have said before, I feel that perhaps the time of this type of game has moved on in favor of more player friendly, less detailed games.  The age of Pathfinder and Savage Worlds is upon us and anything else pales in comparison, at least in some circles.  GDW was breaking new ground when they decided to go with one house system and tried to merge all the best elements of the current RPG products.  Unfortunately, the system is far more involved than I think the players today are willing to take on.  I could be wrong and I hope I am, because it is a very intelligent and real-feeling system that deserves more than what it got just before GDW went under.

For more details on 3Hombres Games/Kinstaff Media LLC and their new Role Playing Game Core Rules “Conspiracy Rules (Dark Conspiracy III)” check them out at their website http://www.kinstaffmedia.com/3hombres/, and at all of your local game stores.

Product Summary

Conspiracy Rules (Dark Conspiracy III)
From: 3Hombres Games/Kinstaff Media LLC
Type of Game: Role Playing Game Core Rules
Game Design by: Lester W. Smith, Marc Miller, Frank Chadwick and Loren K. Wiseman
Developed by: Norm Fenlason, Lee Williams
Cover Art by: David Lee Ingersoll
Additional Art by: Earl Geier, Bradley K.McDevitt, David Lee Ingersoll, Norm Fenlason, Janet Aulisio, Timothy Bradstreet, Steve Bryant, Paul Daly, Elizabeth T. Danforth, Amy Doubet, Larry Elmore, LaMont Fullerton, Earl Geier, Dell Harris, Rick Harris, April Lee, David Martin, Ellisa Martin, Timothy Truman, and Kirk Wescom
Number of Pages: 298
Game Components Included: 1 PDF rulebook
Retail Price: $ 10.00 (US)
Website: www.kinstaffmedia.com/3hombres/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

AT-43: The Rulebook

AT-43: The Rulebook
From:  Rackham
Reviewed by:  Ron McClung

AT-43: The Rulebook is a new Core Rulebook from Rackham.

AT-43 is a very unique and dynamic game universe and game system.  A player starts out with the starter set, Operation Damocles, and if they want more, they can start by buying the AT-43: The Rulebook.

From the back cover:
“No one escapes war”

The AT-43: The Rulebook takes you beyond the basic scenarios presented in Operation Damocles and introduces the core rules in one comprehensive volume.  Not only does it have rules but it also has chapters on each of the four factions in AT-43.  For those that have read the rules presented in Operation Damocles, those rules were the basic rules.  AT-43: The Rulebook  contains the advanced rules for the more experienced miniature game player.

The Introduction to AT-43 gives you the rundown of what the game concept is – the basics of the universe, the starter box, unit and attachment boxes, accessories, and some general information about the miniatures themselves.  It tells you what you need to play and what would be nice to have as well. It is a short guide that basically tells a person what getting into AT-43 entails.

After the intro, the book delves into the game universe. Aside from the game play, the rules system, and the minis, this is what really grabs me about the game.  The universe is rich with potential and depth.  I am not sure how important that is to hard core minis players, but it is to me.  Humans from Ava have expanded from their own little world under a central world government known as the United Nations of Ava.  After  a period of turmoil and rebellion, the Red Block was born – a new faction within the humans that believed in Collectivism (aka Communism).  Then the Therians came – an alien race of machines bent on re-sculpting the universe to their liking.  Among the many races that the humans of Ava encountered, only one was successful in fending off the Therian attack – the ape-like Karmans.

The first faction that the book covers is the UNA – the United Nations of Ava.  With their White Star elite forces, they see themselves as the defenders of good and part of the most advanced human power in their universe.  All the factions are divided up into three sub-factions.  The UNA is made up of Central Command (CentCom), the Military Industrial Complex (M.Ind), and the Union (a.k.a. the Syndicate).  CentCom is the military command structure of UNA.  M.Ind is industrial complex, producing all the goods the UNA needs.  The Union or Syndicate is the civilian governmental and legal structure.

Next are the Therians, the scourge of the galaxy.  They are the re-sculptors of the universe, molding it to their liking.  They are masters of technology beyond anything the humans of Ava have seen.  They are linked under a single chaotic mind known as the Consensus.  These creatures remind me of a cross between Star Trek Borg, Terminator’s Skynet, and the machines of the  Matrix.  The sub-factions of the Therians are the Cyphers, the Warriors, and the Web Striders. The Cyphers are the engineers and scientists of the Therians, forging the technology they need to sculpt the galaxy.  The Warriors use the technology to do the will of the Consensus.  And the Web Striders are incorporeal beings that travel within the Therian technology searching for their mechanical gods hidden in their collective consciousness.

The Red Block is the other faction of humans, born from rebellious colonists within the UNA. Modeled after the communist Soviet Union, the Red Block philosophy focuses around the central concept of Collectivism.  After the UNA reached out to the stars, one colony rebelled and created a new faction of humans.  There is no love lost between the UNA and the Red Block, but with the new invasion of the Therians, they have been forced to put their differences aside (for the most part) to fight a common enemy.  In their society, the Supra is the iron-handed government; the ARC or Army of the Revolutionary Collective is the military; and the Local Collective of Ava or Frontline is the “paradise” the Red Block is establishing on Ava, the factory base for the faction, and the capital of the Revolution.

The Karmans are wise simian creatures, with a strong fatalistic philosophy.  They divide themselves out into the Libra, the Nova, and the Flux.  The Libra preserve the philosophy of the Karmans and lead them into whatever path they take.  The Nova are the arbitrators of the Karmans, ruling on law and consequences.  The Flux are the soldiers.  The Karman have a strong philosophy of action and reaction.  They believe that their current life has been determined by actions of a previous one and so on.

From the back cover:
“Ava. A planet lost in the midst of many others, and yet the cradle of a bold and aggressive species: Mankind”

After giving you the primer for each faction., the AT-43: The Rulebook takes you into the rules of the game.  These rules advance those given in the Initiation Set.  The rules in Operation Damocles get you through just enough to play with that particular set.  The Rulebook gives you the detailed rules enough to start playing any scenario of AT-43.  Needless to say, there are more rules involved in this version.

Units are a group of one or more fighters of the same category.  These units must maintain group cohesion while in play, as defined in the rules, always moving together. Units are divided in two primary categories and they are in turn broken down into two subcategories.  Infantry figures are either Soldiers or Support Units, and have a ranking of one, two or three stars (regular, elite, or battlesuit respectively) representing their role in the army.  Armored Fighting Vehicles are either Combat Striders or Vehicles.  There can also be special fighters – support weapons/gunners, officers, heroes, special weapons bearers, and specialists. Each type of figure is accompanies with a corresponding card, which displays the various stats describing the combat abilities. Cards include variations including officer versions of the unit.

There are sharp differences between the Initiation Set rules and The Rulebook.  Each phase of a round is more detailed and has more options.  A game rounds is broken down into three phases:

  • Tactical Phase
  • Activation Phase
  • Control Phase

The Tactical Phase includes Calculating Leadership, Ordering the Activation Sequence, and Authority Test.  Leadership points (LPs) are a key concept in the game.  They are the points one spends throughout the round to acquire tactical advantages or issue combat drills.  At the end of the round, any unspent LPs are lost. Ordering the Activation Sequence is like the similar phase in the starter set.  Each player lays face down the cards representing each unit in the order that he wants them to act.  This order can not be changed unless LPs are spent.  Finally, the Authority Test is used to determine initiative.

There is an important distinction that each player has to understand when the Tactical Phase starts – the one between Leaders, Officers and the Commander.  The Leaders of a player’s company command each unit.  If he dies, then another soldier takes his role.  An Officer is a Leader of a unit if he exists, but is not replaceable.  The Commander is the highest ranking officer in the company.

As the name implies, the Activation Phase is where all the action happens.  Using LPs for activation, the units can shoot, move, attack in close combat, or perform Combat Drills which allow the unit to perform special actions.  These can be Knee to the Ground (take cover), Overwatch (opportunity fire), Take Cover (infantry takes cover), and Split Fire (for special units).  The rules go into great detail on combat, dedicating a chapter on Shooting and Close Combat.  One key thing to remember when activating is that if you use a Combat Movement, you can attack before AND after you move the unit.  Movement, as well as Range, is measured with the measuring tape and done in centimeters.

Combat is easy and fast.  There are two roles involved – the attack roll and the damage roll.  Like in the Operation Damocles Initiation Set, the game uses the Universal Table of Resolution. Shooting and Close Combat are resolved similarly.  The only difference is the values used to calculate the difficulty.  From the unit, you get the Action value, and from your target, the Difficulty is determined.  The difference between the two gives you the value on the table to look up, which in turn gives you the die value to be rolled. What I like about this system is its simplicity and consistency.  It makes for a fast paced and easy to play game.

The Control Phase is where the players assess the overall victory conditions, victory points and reinforcement points.  Once that is all figured, the round is over and a new one has started.

An important concept in the game is Morale.  A Morale test is made when a unit is in a dire situation.  This depends on the type of unit.  An infantry unit might require a Morale check if it is down to 3 or fewer members.  If the Morale check fails, the unit could be disorganized or routed.  These conditions are defined fairly clearly in the rules.

Much of the latter part of the book is dedicated to building your units and armies.  The game uses a fairly simple point system that lets you build your units and customize them for the game at hand.  Infantry Units are made of specific types of models and can be customized with special weapons and equipment.  Many of the striders come with customizable weapons that snap on and off.  Smaller striders can form units of 2 or 3 while larger ones are units on their own.

When I played this game, we did a 8000 total point battle between my UNA units allied with a friends Red Block, attacking a 4000 point Karma army.  The army building went very fast and simple.  It is advised that the players have the Army books (sold separately) on hand when building their armies.

The layout of the book is great.  The art is simply stunning.  The miniature photography is brilliant.  The rules are clearly illustrated and the use of the photography to illustrate some of the rules is very helpful.

In conclusion, this book only reinforced the attraction I have to this game.  I do not play a lot of miniature games, but after reviewing the base set and this book, I really do enjoy this one.  In playing the game, I found it flowed easy and fast … very fast.  The only road bumps we hit were with special abilities of some of the specialized units.  The core system ran smoothly and fast.

For more details on Rackham and their new Core Rulebook “AT-43: The Rulebook” check them out at their website http://www.at-43.com and at all of your local game stores.

AT-43: The Rulebook
From: Rackham
Type of Game: Core Rulebook
Editorial Director: Jean Bey
Designers/Writers: Arnaud Cuidet, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, Nicolas Raoult, Jerome Rigal
Graphic Artists/Illustrators: Matthias Haddad, Mathieu Harlaut, Goulven Quentel, Wayne England, Davide Fabbri, Paul Jeacock, Karl Kopinski, Florent Maudoux, Adrian Smith, Kevin Walker, Richard Wright, Alessia Zambonin, Paolo Parente
Scuptors/Miniature Designers: Chippy Dugan, Wayne England, Davide Fabbri, Endouard Guiton, Paul Jeacock, Karl Kopinski, William Mordefroy, Adrian Smith, Kevin Walker, Paolo Parente
Number of Pages: 128
Game Components Included: One core rule book
Game Components Not Included: miniatures, accessories, tape measure and dice
Retail Price: $25.00 (US)
Retail Price: 25.00 (EUR)
Number of Players: 2+
Player Ages: 13+
Play Time: 30+ min
Website: www.at-43.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Date: 1/12/2009